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“Active Minds” Advocates Mental Health Awareness

Published: November 20, 2007

As scores of students passed through the Vaughn Center courtyard the afternoon of Nov. 12, many were drawn to the unusual sight of the makeshift clotheslines that had been strung between the palm trees and light posts. Hanging from the lines were hundreds of T-shirts, several of which had printed statements affixed to them.

“Anxiety disorders frequently occur with depression or addiction disorders,” one statement read.

“Half of all cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14,” another stated.

Strolling toward the center of the courtyard, students came to a small table at which members of the group known as “Active Minds” dispensed information about mental health. The event was a fitting way for the new student group to make its debut on the UT campus as they strive to attract more members to help in their mission of raising awareness about mental illness.

“One-in-four is the name of the event,” said Tom Burroughs ‘09, founder of the UT’s Active Minds chapter. “Our goal was to collect 1,400 shirts, which is one-fourth of the UT population.”

The idea, Burroughs explained, is to create a visual representation of a statistic from the National Institute of Mental Health that states one-in-four adults over age 18 suffers from some kind of diagnosable mental illness.

The group collected a total of about 250 shirts for the event, having received them as donations from P.E.A.C.E. (People Exploring Active Community Experiences), the Diversity Fellowship, Residence Life and the Wellness Committee.

Burroughs said the group would continue to collect the shirts throughout the rest of the school year until they reach their goal of 1,400.

“Even though there are so many (people with mental illnesses), people still don’t know much about it,” Burroughs said. “If you just read a name and say ‘this person has this,’ you just put a stigma on it. But if people are more open about mental health issues, it puts a face on it and you learn to associate it with something you respect.”

A psychology major with an interest in the study of mental illness, Burroughs started the UT chapter earlier in the fall semester, after first seeing the group make headlines following the Virginia Tech tragedy in April.

“I really liked the core values of the group,” Burroughs said. “It’s not a support group, it’s about raising awareness and speaking mainly to people who don’t necessarily deal with mental health issues all the time.”

The UT chapter has since grown to include about 10 members – most of whom are also psychology majors, Burroughs said.

The group’s stated purpose is to educate students about the prevalence of mental illness and expose students to people with mental illnesses in order to reduce the stigma associated with the subject.

“We want to get our name out there because we want to have a speaker visit campus next semester,” Burroughs said. He added that several other campus events, including roundtable discussions with psychology professors, are also in the works.

The UT chapter of Active Minds holds meetings every Tuesday at 9 p.m. in the Brevard Hall Community Room.